Changes coming to Maryland divorce process

The process for filing for divorce in Maryland is not quick or easy compared to other states.

Currently, a “no-contest” — or “mutual consent” — divorce requires the parties to reside apart for at least 12 months without interruption and for both parties to appear in person at the final divorce hearing.

Changing the laws is no easy task: many legislators and advocates have attempted for many years to make it easier and faster to get divorced, without success.

This year, two pieces of legislation were introduced, passed by both chambers of the Maryland legislature, and will become law without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature. They become effective Oct. 1.

Both bills will make it easier and faster for some military service members and spouses to file for divorce in Maryland.

The first successful bill, SB 120, is “Family Law – Divorce on Grounds of Mutual Consent – Parties With Minor Children.” The bill will allow parties with minor children of the marriage to file for an Absolute (final) Divorce after entering into a Marital Separation Agreement, which includes child custody and support provisions and a child support worksheet, eliminating the need for 12 months of legal separation.

The second successful bill, SB 96, is “Family Law — Divorce on Grounds of Mutual Consent – Court Appearance.” This bill eliminates the need for the responding party to a case to appear in court.

Together, the bills reduce the length of time the parties wait in order to file for divorce as well as the requirement that the responding party attend the final divorce hearing.

Until now, the most challenging difficulties were the 12-month legal separation and requirement that both parties attend the divorce hearing in “uncontested” filings for divorce.

Military couples are transient by definition. Spouses often are in Maryland simply because they are living with the service member but seek to move elsewhere for family support, education or job opportunities.

However, they are often stuck in Maryland until their Absolute Divorce can be finalized.

Also, service members who deploy or receive PCS orders are forced to move out of state.

In both situations, court attendance by both parties and the one-year waiting period requirement make it difficult or impossible for parties to file for divorce in Maryland.

Beginning Oct. 1, SB 120 will allow the parties with children of the marriage to proceed with filing for an Absolute Divorce — without having to wait an entire year of legal separation — if they file a Marital Separation Agreement that includes child custody and support provisions as well as a child support worksheet.

Moreover, SB 96 will allow the filing party to proceed with an uncontested “mutual consent” divorce filing while no longer requiring the responding party to appear at the final divorce hearing.

Although each bill addresses different requirements to file for divorce in Maryland, they would both make it easier for certain military couples seeking to file in Maryland.

Marital Separation Agreements are a way to eliminate conflict in divorce cases. They achieve amicable results and minimize court time, and the costs and time involved with litigation and legal jurisdictional challenges that are created if the parties relocate out of Maryland before the divorce proceedings are completed.

In uncontested cases, Marital Separation Agreements and divorce pleadings can be prepared by many military Legal Assistance offices within the Military District of Washington for service members, retirees and dependents free of charge.

These valuable legal services save military clients time, expense and the stress of prolonged litigation.

The SB 120 and SB 96 legislations are strong steps in the right direction to make Maryland a more “military-friendly” state by reducing unique difficulties faced by inherently transient military couples who mutually agree to divorce.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with an attorney, call the Legal Assistance Office at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536.

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